Guest post by Middle School Counselor Mary Foard and Upper School Counselor Sam Straub
In the last decade, seismic leaps in technology have shifted children’s capacities to connect, create, and learn in previously unimagined ways — it’s an exciting time to be a part of these tech developments. On the flip side, with such incredible progress often comes the uncertainty of new territory and the need to remind one another of the core values necessary to navigate new technological opportunities with success. Smack in the middle of this paradox is where Dr. Sameer Hinduja
, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center
, operates. Severn was honored to welcome such an expert to our campus on October 12th and 13th to work with our students, faculty, and parent communities.
During his two days on campus, Dr. Hinduja presented separate, hour-long assemblies for our Upper School, Middle School, and 4th and 5th grades. Though he tailored his presentations to match the developmental needs of his audiences, Dr. Hinduja's message was the same across the board: social media and technology present many wonderful benefits, but to be smart consumers and creators of digital content, we must take proactive steps to forge a positive reputation for building others up and bettering one’s community.
His message resonated with our students and earned the resounding approval of the adults in attendance.
First, Dr. Hinduja encouraged our students to take responsibility. He asked students to reflect on the reasons why people cyberbully and how it might feel to be a target. With that baseline, his emphasis shifted to creating a positive digital footprint. He encouraged students to “own their own lives” by making decisions that are best for them. “How do you want to be remembered?” he asked. Keeping in mind that one digital mistake can wipe clean opportunities for which someone has worked over many years, Dr. Hinduja challenged our students to consider how accurately their digital life reflects the image they want to portray in person.
Dr. Hinduja's presentation style resonates with Severn Upper School students as he suggests appropriate actions for protecting yourself on social media.
Value, Not Visibility
Dr. Hinduja’s second point was to focus on value, not visibility. “How do you use technology to lift others up and create positive change in your community?” he asked. Through a variety of uplifting real-life examples, Dr. Hinduja illustrated the importance of serving others and doing the right thing both in person and online. He offered simple suggestions students can do any time.
- Check in with a friend who is having a bad day.
- Keep it up if they dismiss you the first time.
- Use technology to praise others.
These actions benefit everyone, those who receive the kindness and those who initiate it. They build community, confidence, and resilience. In his words, “The more you serve others, the more resistant you are to haters.”
Dr. Hinduja encourages students to look for purpose in life outside of themselves while sharing personal stories of work he does for others.
Tools You Can Use Now
Dr. Hinduja spent close to two hours with parents from our Lower, Middle and Upper Schools addressing fears and empowering parents with critical tools. Too often, kids (and adults) feel like they are caught up in a riptide of technology whereby it manages them instead of them managing it. Parents often ask how to foster a culture of digital responsibility, citizenship, resilience, and kindness. They question how to take the lead on something that their children use more, spend more time with, and know more about. Dr. Hinduja communicated a surprisingly intuitive remedy: use technology to promote family and community values.
Involve yourself in your children’s online lives. Who are your kids’ favorite YouTube celebs? What apps do they use the most? What are the rules of their favorite games? What text or Snapchat just made them laugh in the front seat as they’re riding home from school? Find out and engage with them.
Encourage children and teens to be responsible bystanders. Empower them to stand up to others who are mean online and talk to them about safe ways to do that (unfriend/unfollow, report, etc.).
Promote digital responsibility. Teach children to repair their online slip-ups, just as they do in their off-line lives. For our children, there is very little boundary between their face-to-face worlds and their virtual worlds so they need to understand how to manage both.
Monitor, but don’t rely on technology alone. Dr. Hinduja addressed questions about on-line monitoring. Certainly, there are blocking and monitoring apps that can be quite useful. Dr. Hinduja provided a series of resources for parents to learn more about these apps, but with the caveat that there will always be a way around monitoring efforts. He recommended parents DO use their authority to educate and discipline and DON’T abdicate, delegate, relegate, or mitigate their authority around technology.
Want to Learn More?
Check out these sites recommended by Dr. Hinduja:
- The Cyberbullying Research Center is dedicated to providing up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents.
- ConnectSafely.org is a Silicon Valley, Calif.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy and security. Here you’ll find research-based safety tips, parents’ guidebooks, advice, news and commentary on all aspects of tech use and policy.
- Childnet International is a non-profit organization working with others to help make the internet a great and safe place for children.
- Teaching Privacy aims to empower K-12 students and college undergrads in making informed choices about privacy, by building a set of educational tools and hands-on exercises to help teachers demonstrate what happens to personal information on the Internet — and what the effects of sharing information can be.
- Common Sense Media is the leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. We empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.